A Primer on How to Work With the Usenet Community
*** This message describes the Usenet culture and customs that have
developed over time. Other documents in this newsgroup describe what
Usenet is and manuals or on-line help on your system should provide
detailed technical documentation. All new users should read this
message to acclimate themselves to Usenet. (Old users could read it,
too, to refresh their memories.) ***
Chuq Von Rospach
It is the people participating in Usenet that make it worth the effort
to read and maintain; for Usenet to function properly those people must
be able to interact in productive ways. This document is intended as a
guide to using the net in ways that will be pleasant and productive for
This document is not intended to teach you how to use Usenet.
Instead, it is a guide to using it politely, effectively and
efficiently. Communication by computer is new to almost everybody,
and there are certain aspects that can make it a frustrating
experience until you get used to them. This document should help
you avoid the worst traps.
The easiest way to learn how to use Usenet is to watch how others
use it. Start reading the news and try to figure out what people
are doing and why. After a couple of weeks you will start
understanding why certain things are done and what things shouldn't
be done. There are documents available describing the technical
details of how to use the software. These are different depending
on which programs you use to access the news. You can get copies of
these from your system administrator. If you do not know who that
person is, they can be contacted on most systems by mailing to
account "news", "usenet" or "postmaster".
Never Forget that the Person on the Other Side is Human.
Because your interaction with the network is through a computer it is easy
to forget that there are people "out there." Situations arise where
emotions erupt into a verbal free-for-all that can lead to hurt feelings.
Please remember that people all over the world are reading your words. Do
not attack people if you cannot persuade them with your presentation of
the facts. Screaming, cursing, and abusing others only serves to make
people think less of you and less willing to help you when you need it.
If you are upset at something or someone, wait until you have had a
chance to calm down and think about it. A cup of (decaf!) coffee or
a good night's sleep works wonders on your perspective. Hasty words
create more problems than they solve. Try not to say anything to
others you would not say to them in person in a room full of people.
Don't Blame System Admins for their Users' Behavior.
Sometimes, you may find it necessary to write to a system administrator
about something concerning his or her site. Maybe it is a case of the
software not working, or a control message escaped, or maybe one of the
users at that site has done something you feel requires comment. No matter
how steamed you may be, be polite to the sysadmin -- he or she may not have
any idea of what you are going to say, and may not have any part in the
incidents involved. By being civil and temperate, you are more likely to
obtain their courteous attention and assistance.
Never assume that a person is speaking for their organization.
Many people who post to Usenet do so from machines at their office or
school. Despite that, never assume that the person is speaking for the
organization that they are posting their articles from (unless the
person explicitly says so). Some people put explicit disclaimers to
this effect in their messages, but this is a good general rule. If you
find an article offensive, consider taking it up with the person
directly, or ignoring it. Learn about "kill files" in your newsreader,
and other techniques for ignoring people whose postings you find
Be Careful What You Say About Others.
Please remember -- you read netnews; so do as many as 3,000,000 other
people. This group quite possibly includes your boss, your friend's
boss, your girl friend's brother's best friend and one of your
father's beer buddies. Information posted on the net can come back
to haunt you or the person you are talking about.
Think twice before you post personal information about yourself or
others. This applies especially strongly to groups like soc.singles
and alt.sex but even postings in groups like talk.politics.misc have
included information about the personal life of third parties that
could get them into serious trouble if it got into the wrong hands.
Never say in ten words what you can say in fewer. Say it succinctly and
it will have a greater impact. Remember that the longer you make your
article, the fewer people will bother to read it.
Your Postings Reflect Upon You -- Be Proud of Them.
Most people on Usenet will know you only by what you say and how well you
say it. They may someday be your co-workers or friends. Take some time
to make sure each posting is something that will not embarrass you later.
Minimize your spelling errors and make sure that the article is easy to
read and understand. Writing is an art and to do it well requires
practice. Since much of how people judge you on the net is based on your
writing, such time is well spent.
Use Descriptive Titles.
The subject line of an article is there to enable a person with a limited
amount of time to decide whether or not to read your article. Tell people
what the article is about before they read it. A title like "Car for
Sale" to rec.autos does not help as much as "66 MG Midget for sale:
Beaverton OR." Don't expect people to read your article to find out what
it is about because many of them won't bother. Some sites truncate the
length of the subject line to 40 characters so keep your subjects short
and to the point.
Think About Your Audience.
When you post an article, think about the people you are trying to
reach. Asking UNIX(*) questions on rec.autos will not reach as many
of the people you want to reach as if you asked them on
comp.unix.questions or comp.unix.internals. Try to get the most
appropriate audience for your message, not the widest.
It is considered bad form to post both to misc.misc, soc.net-people,
or misc.wanted and to some other newsgroup. If it belongs in that
other newsgroup, it does not belong in misc.misc, soc.net-people,
If your message is of interest to a limited geographic area (apartments,
car sales, meetings, concerts, etc...), restrict the distribution of the
message to your local area. Some areas have special newsgroups with
geographical limitations, and the recent versions of the news software
allow you to limit the distribution of material sent to world-wide
newsgroups. Check with your system administrator to see what newsgroups
are available and how to use them.
If you want to try a test of something, do not use a world-wide newsgroup!
Messages in misc.misc that say "This is a test" are likely to cause
large numbers of caustic messages to flow into your mailbox. There are
newsgroups that are local to your computer or area that should be used.
Your system administrator can tell you what they are.
Be familiar with the group you are posting to before you post! You
shouldn't post to groups you do not read, or post to groups you've
only read a few articles from -- you may not be familiar with the on-going
conventions and themes of the group. One normally does not join
a conversation by just walking up and talking. Instead, you listen
first and then join in if you have something pertinent to contribute.
Be Careful with Humor and Sarcasm.
Without the voice inflections and body language of personal
communications, it is easy for a remark meant to be funny to be
misinterpreted. Subtle humor tends to get lost, so take steps to make
sure that people realize you are trying to be funny. The net has
developed a symbol called the smiley face. It looks like ":-)" and points
out sections of articles with humorous intent. No matter how broad the
humor or satire, it is safer to remind people that you are being funny.
But also be aware that quite frequently satire is posted without any
explicit indications. If an article outrages you strongly, you
should ask yourself if it just may have been unmarked satire.
Several self-proclaimed connoisseurs refuse to use smiley faces, so
take heed or you may make a temporary fool of yourself.
Only Post a Message Once.
Avoid posting messages to more than one newsgroup unless you are sure
it is appropriate. If you do post to multiple newsgroups, do not
post to each group separately. Instead, specify all the groups on a
single copy of the message. This reduces network overhead and lets
people who subscribe to more than one of those groups see the message
once instead of having to wade through each copy.
Please Rotate Messages With Questionable Content.
Certain newsgroups (such as rec.humor) have messages in them that may
be offensive to some people. To make sure that these messages are
not read unless they are explicitly requested, these messages should
be encrypted. The standard encryption method is to rotate each
letter by thirteen characters so that an "a" becomes an "n". This is
known on the network as "rot13" and when you rotate a message the
word "rot13" should be in the "Subject:" line. Most of the software
used to read Usenet articles have some way of encrypting and
decrypting messages. Your system administrator can tell you how the
software on your system works, or you can use the Unix command
tr '[a-m][n-z][A-M][N-Z]' '[n-z][a-m][N-Z][A-M]'
Don't forget the single quotes!)
Summarize What You are Following Up.
When you are following up someone's article, please summarize the parts of
the article to which you are responding. This allows readers to
appreciate your comments rather than trying to remember what the original
article said. It is also possible for your response to get to some sites
before the original article.
Summarization is best done by including appropriate quotes from the
original article. Do not include the entire article since it will
irritate the people who have already seen it. Even if you are responding
to the entire article, summarize only the major points you are discussing.
When Summarizing, Summarize!
When you request information from the network, it is common courtesy to
report your findings so that others can benefit as well. The best way of
doing this is to take all the responses that you received and edit them
into a single article that is posted to the places where you originally
posted your question. Take the time to strip headers, combine duplicate
information, and write a short summary. Try to credit the information to
the people that sent it to you, where possible.
Use Mail, Don't Post a Follow-up.
One of the biggest problems we have on the network is that when someone
asks a question, many people send out identical answers. When this
happens, dozens of identical answers pour through the net. Mail your
answer to the person and suggest that they summarize to the network. This
way the net will only see a single copy of the answers, no matter how many
people answer the question.
If you post a question, please remind people to send you the answers by
mail and at least offer to summarize them to the network.
Read All Follow-ups and Don't Repeat What Has Already Been Said.
Before you submit a follow-up to a message, read the rest of the messages
in the newsgroup to see whether someone has already said what you want to
say. If someone has, don't repeat it.
Check the Headers When Following Up.
The news software has provisions to specify that follow-ups to an
article should go to a specific set of newsgroups -- possibly
different from the newsgroups to which the original article was
posted. Sometimes the groups chosen for follow-ups are totally
inappropriate, especially as a thread of discussion changes with
repeated postings. You should carefully check the groups and
distributions given in the header and edit them as appropriate. If
you change the groups named in the header, or if you direct
follow-ups to a particular group, say so in the body of the message
-- not everyone reads the headers of postings.
Be Careful About Copyrights and Licenses.
Once something is posted onto the network, it is *probably* in the
public domain unless you own the appropriate rights (most notably,
if you wrote the thing yourself) and you post it with a valid
copyright notice; a court would have to decide the specifics and
there are arguments for both sides of the issue. Now that the US has
ratified the Berne convention, the issue is even murkier (if you are
a poster in the US). For all practical purposes, though, assume
that you effectively give up the copyright if you don't put in a
notice. Of course, the *information* becomes public, so you mustn't
post trade secrets that way.
When posting material to the network, keep in mind that material
that is UNIX-related may be restricted by the license you or your
company signed with AT&T and be careful not to violate it. You
should also be aware that posting movie reviews, song lyrics, or
anything else published under a copyright could cause you, your
company, or members of the net community to be held liable for
damages, so we highly recommend caution in using this material.
Cite Appropriate References.
If you are using facts to support a cause, state where they came from.
Don't take someone else's ideas and use them as your own. You don't want
someone pretending that your ideas are theirs; show them the same respect.
Mark or Rotate Answers and Spoilers.
When you post something (like a movie review that discusses a detail of
the plot) which might spoil a surprise for other people, please mark your
message with a warning so that they can skip the message. Another
alternative would be to use the "rot13" protocol to encrypt the message so
it cannot be read accidentally. When you post a message with a spoiler in
it make sure the word "spoiler" is part of the "Subject:" line.
Spelling Flames Considered Harmful.
Every few months a plague descends on Usenet called the spelling flame.
It starts out when someone posts an article correcting the spelling or
grammar in some article. The immediate result seems to be for everyone on
the net to turn into a 6th grade English teacher and pick apart each other's
postings for a few weeks. This is not productive and tends to cause
people who used to be friends to get angry with each other.
It is important to remember that we all make mistakes, and that
there are many users on the net who use English as a second
language. There are also a number of people who suffer from
dyslexia and who have difficulty noticing their spelling mistakes.
If you feel that you must make a comment on the quality of a
posting, please do so by mail, not on the network.
Don't Overdo Signatures.
Signatures are nice, and many people can have a signature added to
their postings automatically by placing it in a file called
"$HOME/.signature". Don't overdo it. Signatures can tell the world
something about you, but keep them short. A signature that is longer
than the message itself is considered to be in bad taste. The main
purpose of a signature is to help people locate you, not to tell your
life story. Every signature should include at least your return
address relative to a major, known site on the network and a proper
domain-format address. Your system administrator can give this to
you. Some news posters attempt to enforce a 4 line limit on
signature files -- an amount that should be more than sufficient to
provide a return address and attribution.
Limit Line Length and Avoid Control Characters.
Try to keep your text in a generic format. Many (if not most) of
the people reading Usenet do so from 80 column terminals or from
workstations with 80 column terminal windows. Try to keep your
lines of text to less than 80 characters for optimal readability.
If people quote part of your article in a followup, short lines will
probably show up better, too.
Also realize that there are many, many different forms of terminals
in use. If you enter special control characters in your message, it
may result in your message being unreadable on some terminal types;
a character sequence that causes reverse video on your screen may
result in a keyboard lock and graphics mode on someone else's
terminal. You should also try to avoid the use of tabs, too, since
they may also be interpreted differently on terminals other than
Please do not use Usenet as a resource for homework assignments.
Usenet is not a resource for homework or class assignments. A common
new user reaction to learning of all these people out there holding
discussions is to view them as a great resource for gathering
information for reports and papers. Trouble is, after seeing a few
hundred such requests, most people get tired of them, and won't reply
anyway. Certainly not in the expected or hoped-for numbers. Posting
student questionnaires automatically brands you a "newbie" and does not
usually garner much more than a tiny number of replies. Further,
some of those replies are likely to be incorrect.
Instead, read the group of interest for a while, and find out what the
main "threads" are - what are people discussing? Are there any themes
you can discover? Are there different schools of thought?
Only post something after you've followed the group for a few weeks,
after you have read the Frequently Asked Questions posting if the group
has one, and if you still have a question or opinion that others will
probably find interesting. If you have something interesting to
contribute, you'll find that you gain almost instant acceptance, and
your posting will generate a large number of follow-up postings. Use
these in your research; it is a far more efficient (and accepted) way
to learn about the group than to follow that first instinct and post a
Please do not use Usenet as an advertising medium.
Advertisements on Usenet are rarely appreciated. In general, the louder
or more inappropriate the ad is, the more antagonism it will stir up.
The accompanying posting "Rules for posting to Usenet" has more on this
in the section about "Announcement of professional products or services".
Try the biz.* hierarchies instead.
Avoid posting to multiple newsgroups.
Few things annoy Usenet readers as much as multiple copies of a posting
appearing in multiple newsgroups. (called 'spamming' for historical
reasons) A posting that is cross-posted (i.e lists multiple newsgroups
on the Newsgroups: header line) to a few appropriate newsgroups is
fine, but even with cross-posts, restraint is advised. For a
cross-post, you may want to set the Followup-To: header line to the
most suitable group for the rest of the discussion.
Summary of Things to Remember
(*)UNIX is a registered trademark of X/Open.
- Never forget that the person on the other side is human.
- Don't blame system admins for their users' behavior.
- Never assume that a person is speaking for their organization.
- Be careful what you say about others.
- Be brief.
- Your postings reflect upon you; be proud of them.
- Use descriptive titles
- Think about your audience.
- Be careful with humor and sarcasm.
- Only post a message once.
- Please rotate material with questionable content.
- Summarize what you are following up.
- Use mail, don't post a follow-up.
- Read all follow-ups and don't repeat what has already been said.
- Double-check follow-up newsgroups and distributions.
- Be careful about copyrights and licenses.
- Cite appropriate references.
- When summarizing, summarize.
- Mark or rotate answers or spoilers.
- Spelling flames considered harmful.
- Don't overdo signatures.
- Limit line length and avoid control characters.
- Please do not use Usenet as a resource for homework assignments.
- Please do not use Usenet as an advertising medium.
- Avoid posting to multiple newsgroups.
Original-author: chuq@apple.COM (Chuq Von Rospach)
Comment: enhanced & edited until 5/93 by email@example.com (Gene Spafford)
Last-change: 29 Jan 1995 by firstname.lastname@example.org (Mark Moraes)
This document is in the public domain and may be reproduced or
excerpted by anyone wishing to do so.
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